Masahiro Tanaka will pitch in a minor league game at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa on Monday, Joe Girardi told reporters. He came through yesterday’s 45-pitch simulated game just fine and will throw a bullpen session on Friday as preparation. I assume Tanaka will pitch in an Instructional League game next week, not another simulated game. Girardi hinted that Tanaka could be activated off the disabled list to start for the Yankees next weekend if Monday’s outing goes well.
Given the number of pitching injuries they suffered this season, the Yankees should have been out of the postseason race a long time ago. I mean out out. At one point five of the organization’s six best starting pitchers were on the disabled list and right now three of their top four Opening Day rotation members are still out with injuries. The Masahiro Tanaka injury the week before the All-Star break should have been the final straw. It should have been over after that.
Instead, Brian Cashman & Co. have cobbled together a five-man rotation that not only prevented the Yankees from falling apart, but has actually improved upon what the team was getting out of their starters earlier in the season. The rotation had a 4.10 ERA (3.92 FIP) before Tanaka got hurt and they have a 3.39 ERA (3.26 FIP) since. That’s remarkable. A notable trade (Brandon McCarthy), a scrap heap pickup (Chris Capuano), a timely call-up (Shane Greene), and a return to health (Michael Pineda) have kept the club afloat. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild deserves a lot of credit.
The Yankees figure to be in the market for pitching help this winter because they and every other team look for pitching help every winter. One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how much pitching a team already has or how bad the offensive environment is around the league, teams will always look for more arms. In the case of the Yankees, they’ll be bringing back three injury risk starters next season in Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), and CC Sabathia (knee). Greene and David Phelps provide some depth, but the need for some rotation protection is obvious.
The upcoming free agent pitching class is top heavy thanks to Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields, three inarguably excellent pitchers who come with their own unique sets of pluses and minuses. All three will require pretty massive contracts — Shields is likely to get the smallest deal of the three and I have a hard time believing he’ll sign for fewer than four or five years at this point — and in the case of Scherzer and Shields, forfeiting first round draft picks as well. They’re worth it though. Those three guys are legitimate top of the rotation arms.
The Yankees are already paying Sabathia and Tanaka top of the rotation dollars and, unless they up payroll substantially next year, fitting another $20M+ per year starter doesn’t seem doable without skimping on offense. They have opened the season with a payroll in the $195M to $215M range in six of the last seven years, and Cot’s says they already have $168.8M committed to only ten players next season. Considering how their offense has been below-average for two straight years now, fixing it should be the top priority this winter.
This season showed the Yankees are capable of building a quality rotation with smaller moves and lower profile pickups. Would they be a better team with Scherzer or Lester? Absolutely. But I think the focus has to be on adding depth this winter, not one big star player. Given all those risky starters under contract, the Yankees should focus on adding two or even three starters this offseason. The alternative to spending, say, $25M annually on Lester could be spending $20M combined on two of McCarthy, Jason Hammel, and the reclamation projects that are Brett Anderson and Justin Masterson, giving the club more options and keeping the contract lengths short.
Now, those are just a bunch of names I’m throwing out there and I’m an idiot. Who knows what it will take to sign those guys in reality or if any of them will want to come pitch in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have shown they are adept at not only identifying starting pitchers who are better than what they’ve shown recently, but also getting more out of them then expected. It’s not a one-time thing either. They’ve done it with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and even Hiroki Kuroda in recent years. That’s a valuable skill they can use to their advantage. (The fact that no one can hit anymore works in their favor as well.)
The Yankees are still the Yankees and they’re always going to be in the mix for big name free agents. That’s what they do. Lester in particular is very tempting as an AL East proven workhorse left-handed ace with big market chops, and I fully expect the team to be all in on him this winter. But, as I said the other day, I think the Yankees are where they are right now because of their unwavering reliance on long-term, big money contracts. I think their ability to dig up quality starters out of seemingly nowhere is incredibly valuable and would allow them go to a different route this winter, eschewing yet another long-term pitching contract in favor of shorter term deals that add depth and flexibility.
The Yankees have added another minor league affiliate to the organization. Yesterday afternoon the team announced the addition of the Pulaski Yankees, a rookie level affiliate in the Appalachian League. The franchise had been affiliated with the Mariners from 2008-14. The team will play in 2,500-seat Calfee Park in Pulaski, Virginia.
“We are excited to add an Appalachian League team to our affiliation. Obviously baseball is our business and in that business you try to find the best ways to develop your talents,” said Brian Cashman in the team’s statement. The Yankees and Pulaski still have not finalized the length of their player development contract but that is only a formality. They wouldn’t have announced the affiliation if they weren’t close to a deal.
The Appalachian League is a short season league — they begin play in late-June every summer — and although it is technically classified as a rookie league, the quality of competition is generally better than what you’ll find in the rookie level Gulf Coast League but not quite as good as the Short Season NY-Penn League. Consider it a stepping stone between the GCL Yanks and the Staten Island Yankees.
The press release called the Pulaski franchise the Yankees’ tenth minor league affiliate, indicating they will still continue to field two GCL squads in the future. Pulaski joins the organization’s four full season affiliates (Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston), one short season affiliate (SI Yanks), two rookie ball affiliates (GCL Yanks1 and 2), and two Dominican Summer League affiliates.
There is nothing but good that can come from adding another minor league club to the organization. Anything that allows prospects to get more playing time that early in their careers — the Appy League average age was approximately 19.5 this summer — is a positive. The Yankees went bonkers on the international market this summer and they’re going to need places to play all of those kids in the near future, and the new Pulaski affiliate will help accomplish that. Good news all around.
The Yankees continue to fade out of the postseason race, but at least there is some good news on the injury front. Also some bad news, but whatever. Here are a few injury updates, courtesy of Bryan Hoch, Chad Jennings, George King, and Mark Feinsand.
- Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) threw 45 pitches across three simulated innings yesterday, saying afterwards that everything went fine and he feels strong. He will throw a bullpen session in the coming days, and after that the Yankees will decide whether Tanaka will throw another simulated game or pitch in an Instructional League game in Tampa. It’s entirely possible he will rejoin the rotation after that. “I think he wants to feel that he can go home and have a normal offseason and he can be healthy and come back,” said Joe Girardi. “I do believe it’s important to him.”
- Brett Gardner (abdomen) underwent an MRI and was diagnosed with a mild strain. There is no timetable for his return right now and it’s possible his season is over. “We’re not sure exactly when we’ll get him back,” said Girardi. “He does feel better. He’ll see the doctor again tonight and then we’ll try to make some decisions on when he’ll start doing some baseball activities … I’m not sure when we’ll get him back. It is a concern of mine. We’ll continue to talk to the doctors, measure how he feels and how he’s improving and go from there.”
- Martin Prado (hamstring) is not improving. His mild strain hasn’t gotten any worse — he did play two games over the weekend — but it just isn’t getting any better right now. “There’s concern about him playing on that, where he could really make it worse in his hamstring to where it becomes a serious issue,” said Girardi. “It’s still bothering him. Even though I told him to guard it — and he did a good job — there’s concern.”
- David Phelps (elbow) will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday and is likely to be activated on Friday, in advance of the team’s doubleheader against the Orioles. He feels great and is ready to go. The Yankees are bringing Phelps back as a reliever.
- Frankie Cervelli (migraines) is on medication and resumed working out Monday. He should be available soon. “I got treatment and I’m back. Doctors say we have to make sure it doesn’t come back, but I feel good so I think I am going to play soon,” he said.
So it seems the Yankees will fall out of the wildcard race without much of a fight. They lost Tuesday night’s series opener to the Rays by the score of 4-3. It was their eighth loss in the last 13 games, in the middle of the most important stretch of their season. The team’s chances of claiming he second wildcard spot are all but kaput at this point.
I was out with my brother for his birthday, so I only caught bits and pieces of the game on the radio. I can’t say I’m disappointed I missed it. The Yankees were down 4-0 before they even had their first base-runner against Chris Archer, which was Jacoby Ellsbury‘s leadoff homer in the fourth. A hit batsman (Chase Headley) and four straight singles (Ichiro Suzuki, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Ellsbury) created two more runs in the fifth, but Drew was thrown out at the plate on a terrible send by third base coach Robbie Thomson, stifling the rally.
Hiroki Kuroda opened the game by striking out the side in the first before allowing hits to nine of the next 16 men he faced. That resulted in four runs and the end of his day with one out in the fourth inning. Kuroda’s been really good of late. This was just a bad night against a team he can’t seem to beat. The bullpen was pretty great — Joe Girardi went a little bonkers with the matchups — as seven relievers combined for 5.2 scoreless innings. They allowed only two hits and two walks. Not Kuroda’s best game but four runs in nine innings overall should be a winnable game.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some other stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. The Orioles and Blue Jays both won, so the Yankees are now in third place in the AL East, one game back of Toronto and eleven back of Baltimore. Depending on the outcome of the late game, they’ll be either five games (Mariners lose) or six games (Mariners win) back of the second wildcard spot with 20 games to play. FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 1.0%. Their elimination number is nine games for the division and 14 games for the wildcard. Chris Capuano and Jake Odorizzi will be Wednesday’s pitching matchup.
Including tonight, there are only 21 games left in the season. The Yankees are five games back of the second wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them, so sneaking into the postseason will be a daunting task. After dropping three of their last four series, winning this one against the Rays is a must if they want to play meaningful games beyond this coming weekend. Here is the Rays lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Derek Jeter
- C Brian McCann
- DH Carlos Beltran
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- 3B Chase Headley
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- 2B Stephen Drew
- LF Chris Young
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
It is cool, humid, and cloudy in New York, but there is not rain in the forecast tonight. Well, no substantial rain. Maybe some drizzle but nothing more. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on My9. Enjoy the game.
The odds were stacked against them to open September, and they haven’t helped their cause. By playing mere .500 ball at a time when every win is crucial, the Yankees have dropped from 3.5 games back from a tie for the second Wild Card to five games back.
Cleveland and Detroit now sit between them and the postseason. Toronto rides their heels in a virtual tie. The offense can’t generate any runs. The Yankees’ chances don’t look great, even with 21 games remaining.
People love to estimate how many wins it’ll take to put them into October play. Will they need to win 17 of 21? More? To make up five games in just three weeks is a pretty tall order any way you slice it.
The Yanks can forget about the AL East. While eight — EIGHT — of their remaining games are against the Orioles, they simply cannot expect a second-half-2009-against-the-Red-Sox performance. Even if they did, by some miracle, sweep the O’s, those games alone would only get them within two of the AL East crown.
On the Wild Card front, the Yankees have the misfortune of not playing any teams ahead of them the rest of the way. The best chances they had to beat up on the competition came with their recent series against Detroit and Kansas City, and they dropped two of three in both. Oops.
But I’m not here to argue what they could have done and didn’t do. What we all want to know is what comical scenarios will it take for the Yankees to actually make the postseason?
Let’s start with some semi-reasonable expectations. To date the Yankees have a .518 win percentage. Let’s say they get reasonably hot and play close to .600 ball the rest of the way, going 12-9. Seattle, current holders of the second Wild Card spot, would have to go 6-13 the rest of the way after playing .552 ball all season. And that’s while Cleveland goes at best 11-9 and Detroit goes at best 6-12.
(Which would be great for Dave Pinto’s massive tie scenario.)
Clearly, the Yanks will have to get super hot in order to stand an inkling of a chance. If Seattle, Detroit, and Cleveland play .500 ball the rest of the way — which is about as reasonably bad as you can project. (We’ll go one game under, for odd-numbered games remaining.) That would make the final standings:
Just to tie, the Yankees would have to go 15-6. The odds of even doing that are pretty long. A quick glance shows the Yankees having nowhere near that good a stretch previously this season. My eye sees a 10-4 stretch as being their best to date.
This isn’t meant to bury the Yankees. We’re fans, with no control on the outcome of the games. Anything other than hope is pretty ridiculous. But it sets some solid expectations going forward. The worst the Yankees can reasonably play the rest of the way is 15-6 ball, a .714 win percentage.
We keep tally starting tonight.